Brian White was the first draft pick taken by the New York Red Bulls in the 2018 MLS Draft. In this conversation we talk about some of the things that set him apart as an athlete and the transition to life as a professional athlete.
This episode I got the chance to talk to Brad Nein, Coach and Blogger who works with kids and coaches in order to make a better experience of soccer. We discuss his beginnings, his dissertation and many other topics. To find out more about Brad and what he does, go to http://www.educatedcoaches.com or http://www.sweetfeetsoccer.org.
It’s far off in the future but it will be here in a developmental instant. Although the World Cup of 2026 is almost a decade away, the present is the only place where we can impact the future. Recognizing that Christian Pulisic and Tyler Adams may be the “veterans” of that team gives the extremely realistic picture that while our future could be bright, it is in our best interest to make it brighter. The loftier heights of the sport world are not reached by the individual but rather by a cultural movement that serves as a base to raise the many. So the US soccer needs to realize that it’s chess, not kick ball.
The reason is that our soccer culture has gotten extremely effective at creating only pawns. Christian Pulisic is an anomaly as an American player because of his versatility and vision. Generally speaking the youth systems of the country are extremely effective at creating players who can make the next pass and not much else. A slightly dumbed down version of the beautiful game where creativity is superseded by practicality. Although pawns are necessary in the game of chess, they are unable to win the game on their own. The major pieces, like rooks and queens, give the best possibility for victory because they are dynamic and possibly game changing. Opponents must fear them because they are unpredictable. They are in the right spots because they think five moves ahead from where the play is right now. And that’s what we all need to do with the game.
The recognition that right now is not the goal. The goal looms in front of us in the distance but we can’t reach it playing kick ball. We need to be playing chess, developing rooks, queens, bishops and even knights. Seeing a path that leads to eventual checkmate will only come if we are developing enough quality pieces, not pawns for our small game.
Head Coach, Evan Weller, has been building the soccer program at Phillipsburg High School for the past 16 years. This conversation highlights some of the components to their success and thoughts beyond the lines of the field.
In this brief solo talk, I discuss some of the things that I believe are being missed in our current soccer culture. Even they may be the most pressing and most apparent, they seem to be the most overlooked. Send in your thoughts and questions to email@example.com today.
Often the most important things are hiding in plain sight. We cannot see them because we’re so busy looking at things that we’ve been told are important or think that we value. A deeper inspection usually reveals that we’ve overlooked the most crucial things in the name of the most frivolous. It’s not particularly our fault as our brains were hardwired to concentrate on the urgent and short term because the long term was not guaranteed. Also there are some things that we look past completely because of the fact that they are so pervasive. One of my favorite questions to ask during presentations is “what is the most important thing that you’re going to do today?” I get a variety of answers depending on the crowd but the answer should be the same for everyone: breathe! The answer is so obvious and yet almost everyone misses it because it’s overlooked. My work at the moment is at a tenuous place where I am trying to balance that which I know is most important and what people actually see. So for now I am going to continue to do what I believe is right… NOT CARE!
I’ve decided to intertwine two of my greatest passions into one because in my eyes they fit so perfectly together. The most popular sport in the world (soccer) and the most important skill for doing anything in life (self-belief) are the twin targets that I’ve set my sights on. The reason being that it is important to leverage people’s behavior and soccer has motivated millions of people to shell out big money to have someone teach their child how to kick a ball more effectively. The reverse of that situation is that self-belief is extremely low in our younger generation because they have largely been robbed of the experience of self-discovery. Their activities have been planned for them since birth. Failure has been removed from their lives in order to protect them. And they have largely been taught that they are not as good as the people that they see on the screen of the super computer in their pocket. So what am I going to do about it… NOT CARE!
- I’m not going to care about how many goals you score this season but rather the number of times that you keep working in a tough session.
- I’m not going to care about the number of followers you have on Instagram but rather your ability to lead one person (you).
- I’m not going to care that you didn’t get a starting position on the team but rather the ways that you control those types of outcomes in your life through your choices.
- I’m not going to care about your desire to get recruited by the college of your choice but rather recruit the resources within you to make you an irresistible candidate.
At this point, you probably get the picture. I’m more concerned with the root than the fruit because I know that they’re so completely dependent upon one another. Focusing on the process at the most basic level may not produce the exact result that you’re looking for. It will however produce a person that is worth believing in and that’s what I care about!
This episode I got the chance to talk to Anson Smith, Head Coach of Hunterdon Central High School. We delve into a variety of topics including team culture, Development Academies, personal responsibility, and a host of other topics. You can find his company and contact him directly at http://www.soccersmith.org.
Family Ties was one of my favorite sitcoms from the 1980’s. It wasn’t the funniest show in the world but I related with it. Parents who cared but were a little weird and eccentric. The kids had some problems but nothing overly earth-shattering. Despite any issues that arose, there was a general sense that the family cared for one another and wanted the best for each other. The morals to the episodes were pretty straight forward and dealt with things that I was about to go through as a kid. Although there were major differences between myself and the character, I always identified with Alex P. Keaton.
His character was focused intently on money, success and economics. Those topics never really hit my radar. However intertwined within his “young republican” ideals was a character that had struggles and found a balance for his aspirations and human relations. His desire for success got pushed to the side at times when more pressing matters were at hand. Now I recognize that the show is fake and the character does not really exist but it paints a picture. Alex P. Keaton was a “keep up with Joneses” kind of guy. Success was written into his character but so was a human element. I’ve not asked Michael J. Fox for an interpretation on the following but I feel confident in my assertion.
Most of us need to focus more on the soccer Keatons and let the soccer Joneses go! Believe me! I want the USMNT to win a World Cup. It’s a dream that I would love to see come to fruition. BUT my desire for that success cannot override my desire for a fruitful sports culture for a majority of our young players. Academies SHOULD exist. Trainers SHOULD be training young soccer players. However the idea that all players and parents should be aspiring to that level is lunacy. The soccer culture over the past few years has tilted heavily toward the professionalism of the youth game. As I said above, these things are important for the improvement the sport at a certain level. The pervasiveness of the shift is the concern. There seems to be a cultural ratchet that should exist for some but not others. The top level players need that cultural ratchet to improve the national team player pool. The general youth player does not.
- They need their parents to cheer for them embarrassingly no matter how mediocre they are.
- They need to have economic burden of youth sports taken off of their parents, thus inflated expectations taken off of them.
- They need their instruction in the sport to come from a caring adult who is invested in them as a person rather than an outsourced “expert”.
- They need to be a kid first.
Perhaps this is nothing more than a bit of nostalgia for a simpler soccer time. Or maybe we should truly be worried. Worried that a sport whose name in this country is even derived from its community roots but seems to be more focused on individualism and exceptionalism. If our hearts and minds are truly for sale, we should look to get more than a few years with the label of “Elite”. Those years are not coming back. When they are gone, will you revel in how close you were to the top level? Or how close you are with the people who matter to you in your family/community? Perhaps you can have the former without sacrificing the latter but is that a gamble that so many should be making?
What would we do (baby) without us?
In high school, I ran track and field. High jump and long jump were my specialties but I also won points for the team in some of the sprints. Track is a completely different animal than most other sports. Although it’s a team competition, most of the events are competed as individuals. Much of a track meet is spent waiting around for your event to take place. So they end up being long affairs because all of the races are run on the same surface.
The longest race that was run in my area was the two mile. It could get time consuming if there were slow runners. So the officials would have the slow 2 milers move to the outside lanes and start the next race. It was pretty easy to tell the difference between someone running a slow 2 mile and the 400 meter relay, so it was an effective way to use the common space. Imagine though that the officials ran every single race at the same time. It would be chaos! Tracking who was leading which event would be difficult if not impossible. Despite this fact, it begins to paint a picture of the challenge that many people have internally and society may have externally.
The metaphor of a track and field competition is a useful one. Although time and distance are the two major measurements used, there are other factors that play heavily into certain events. A javelin thrower cares very little about the time of his run up but very much about his arm mechanics. The fact that all of the athletes are focusing on different components in order to get different results mirrors much of our perception of success in life.
People are gauging their success in different ways and for different reasons. Much like the simultaneous track events, it’s easy to get confused about whether you’re leading or trailing when comparing yourself with others. If you’re focus is on having a spectacular family life, you may feel like a failure when comparing your wealth to someone who is judging themselves only on the monetary metric. It’s a fool’s errand to try to beat someone at a game that you’re not even playing.
So the thing to do is Decide! Decide on the games that you’re playing. For sure you can play the family and monetary game simultaneously but recognizing that your attention is split between the two will keep you from caring about the 30 other games that are going on. Win on your own terms in the things that are important to you. You’re much more likely to enjoy the game when you set up the rules and keep score!
There are some things that are just NOT done in polite American society! You don’t ask a woman if she’s pregnant. You don’t talk politics with your in-laws. You don’t talk about money in mixed company. And if you’re an American soccer fan, you don’t agree with Alexi Lalas! I am about to break that last social norm. Alexi gave a description of the apples to oranges comparison of US Soccer’s failings to the successes of Croatia and Iceland. I totally agree. The component pieces of the soccer landscapes and national culture in each country are so completely disparate that comparison is a fool’s errand that is at best click bate and at worst sophisticated soccer tail chasing. So let’s take the American soccer “watermelon*” and inspect it on its own merit to see where we’re going.
First of all, let’s take the population discussion completely off the table because it is irrelevant on many levels. Only 2 countries in the top 20 by population have won a World Cup (Brazil and Germany). Of that same top 20, nine nations have never qualified for a World Cup. If more people was the answer, China and India would be in the final every four years. The fact that the US is larger than another country does not indicate that it should be more likely to win (or perform well) at the World Cup. So it is much more complicated than that.
The story of the nations that have won at least one or even multiple World Cups comes down to a convergence of many factors but probably the most crucial is a soccer (football) culture. The nations that have been able to win or compete well at World Cups all have a culture that supports and/or increases their success on the field. Culture, in very general terms, can be characterized by the statement “People like us, do things like this.” So in those high performing soccer nations, people do several things that perpetuate the high level of play or induce improvement. Generally speaking this is not a top down process. Culture is a product of many little decisions made by thousands or millions of individuals, not a handful of powerful individuals making decisions. So if World Cup success is in the future for the United States, it will follow the adoption of a soccer culture, not create one.
So even though the size of Iceland does not matter, the fact that so many Icelandic people do the Viking clap does. It sends a message to every single player on the team and child who is adopting the game. The message is “This matters to us!” That message changes the daily actions of people. Given the choice between extra ball work or not, players in those environments recognize that something important is at stake.
With that understanding well established, I will go back to the title. If the USMNT doesn’t win the World Cup in/by 2026, it’s my fault! This statement may seem crazy to some but if you’ve been paying attention it becomes plainly obvious. Culture is created by individual decisions made by the masses. It’s on ME! And YOU! And everyone else attached to this game in the US. No longer can we hope that copying Barcelona drills or hiring English trainers or attending foreign friendlies on their summer tours is enough. Every one of us that considers ourselves a part of soccer in the US needs to up their game. What does that mean?
It means action by the many. In some ways this endeavor is truly in line with American culture (of the past at least). It is almost inherently American to identify a challenge and conquer it. For most of our country’s history, that was almost common place. We (the people) took on monumental tasks as a collective. Unfortunately we seem to be at a point in history where we expect other people to do it for us. We can outsource it or it’s the government, corporation or system’s fault that things aren’t going right. The problem lies with someone else or it’s just too hard and I can’t be bothered. FUCK THAT!!! We need to step up for the next eight years! Not in some grandiose, out of reach way but in simple ways that can have a cumulative effect. The main thing that will be required is a long term view. So here are some of my suggestions based on a variety of perspectives. It’s by no means a complete list but it’s a start. Add your own thoughts in the comments.
- Watch MLS games – More eyes = more dollars = better players = better league = better US player pool. If you watch the EPL or la Liga but don’t watch MLS, you need to start. I know that MLS is not as good as the top leagues at the moment. However if we don’t pay attention now, it won’t have the monetary resources to get better.
- Focus on players getting better – If you’re a parent, coach, or associated with youth soccer in any other way; put progress of the player over the result on the day. This is so extremely difficult for people to embrace because the desire for status is so hardwired into our minds. One of the reasons that we continue to struggle on the international stage is that we are enamored with being the biggest fish in the small pond.
- Be active – There are all kinds of ways that the US soccer culture could improve but it needs people to do. Passivity is only going to perpetuate mediocrity. Let your voice be heard, your actions be seen and your passion be felt. You matter in this endeavor.
As you finish up reading this article, I hope that you have a small inkling of the feeling that I have. It’s only a matter of time before the US wins a World Cup. Soccer is no longer the game for everyone else but US. The momentum of the sport in this country is well on its way but now it needs our help to reach escape velocity. To overcome the inertia of ambivalence and low expectations, WE all must do our small part to reach the highest of heights. But there are no guarantees. WE must bet on the fact that together it will be enough. And if it’s not! IT’S MY FAULT!
*I’ve chosen a watermelon because it is my favorite fruit. It’s also large but lacks overpowering flavor and its seeds are possibly potent but they are often discarded or made to disappear before they can materialize.